Written by Akio Fukamachi, Tetsuya Nakashima, Miako Tadano & Nobuhiro Monma
Directed by Tetsuya Nakashima
Tetsuya Nakashima’s The World of Kanako is a blood-soaked detective story about an unstable father’s quest to track down his missing daughter. While falling within the broad boundaries of a detective story, The World of Kanako plays out as an ultra-violent, psychotropic dive into the brittle mind of a damaged protagonist. While the squeamish will definitely want to sit this one out, those up for a hyper-kinetic, genre-bending revenge flick are in for a treat.
Akikazu Fujishima (Kôji Yakusho) is a flat out mess: he’s lost his job, lost his family, and self-medicates his mental illness with alcohol and drugs. Akikazu floats through his life without meaning until his ex-wife (Asuka Kurosawa) calls to inform him that his teenage daughter Kanako (Nana Komatsu) is missing. Whether fueled by paternal instincts or a pretense to uncork his bottled up misanthropy, Akikazu cuts a bloodstained swath of destruction through every nook and cranny of the city that may provide clues to his daughter’s whereabouts. Akikazu bludgeons his way through delicate situations like only a man with nothing to lose can; he drapes up high-school teachers, bribes teenagers with drugs, and day-drinks his way closer to the distressing truth about who or what his daughter really is.
The initial task of finding Kanako offers Akikazu a brief respite from his own personal hell, but as the plot moves forward it becomes clear that his daughter’s world only provides more weight for his frail mind to bear. Akikazu attempts to rescue his daughter, “the ideal,” rather than the person that she has become, and as each clue he discovers sheds additional light on The World of Kanako and her disappearance, his quest for revenge devolves into his own twisted catharsis.
Yakusho’s performance is the key to the audience’s willingness to partake in The World of Kanako‘s misanthropy and nihilism. Akikazu begins the movie as an unlikable character, and only becomes more depraved as the film goes on. As far as film protagonists go, Akikazu exhibits Marianas Trench-level depths of depravity. Yakusho’s charisma anchors the film, and his captivating performance keeps the audience tethered to the deplorable Akikazu to the point of almost evoking sympathy. A lesser actor would leave the audience rooting for Akikazu to take a bullet the way gore-hounds cheer on Jason Voorhees as he stalks his vapid camp counsellor prey.
The moments in the film where Akikazu ties together pieces of Kanako’s past tend to be the least interesting portions of the film. Slowly peeling back layers of the story’s central mystery should be riveting; instead, it plays out as a series of exposition dumps akin to video game cut-scenes. Characters end up spending too much time firing off plot points. As a result, the audience is forced to sit through barely fleshed out characters saying this happened, and then this happened, and then that happened. Even though the film constantly jumps back in time to depict pre-disappearance Kanako, it spends too much time not adhering to the storytelling rule of show, don’t tell. When the mystery finally starts coming together for Akikazu, the movie subverts standard detective story tropes and guides the viewer somewhere completely unexpected, however. Getting to that point, however, often feels tedious.
From the opening scene until the final credits, The World of Kanako is an unrelenting assault on the senses. Nakashima packs almost every frame of the film with highly stylized visuals that will leave crime film aficionados’ eyes glazed over due to adrenal fatigue. Yakuza thugs brawl under grimy bridges, scumbags are tortured for information in derelict warehouses, and adversaries get taken out with bone-jarring car wrecks. Often as fists connect with flesh, Nakashima intersperses the film’s frenetic camera cuts with animated shots of blood splatters (similar to what happened when 1960’s TV Batman would pop fools in the face). During a rave, cartoonish text and emojis flash on the screen, selling the drug induced trip the characters are experiencing, and as one bullied character falls into a swimming pool, the live-action segment switches to animation.
The easily offended must be forewarned- The World of Kanako’s visual panache doesn’t take the edge off all the brutal acts taking place onscreen the way that it does in films such as Kill Bill or Yakuza Apocalypse. There are numerous explicit scenes depicting murder, rape, and torture, and Nakashima is determined not to leave anything to the imagination — in one instance, a man’s stomach is slit open and a boot is driven into his guts as though it was stomping out a cigarette butt.
The World of Kanako has all the makings of a divisive film; many will applaud its visual style and subversive themes, some will write it off as exploitation style genre trash, and the faint of heart won’t make it passed the first act. What the film inarguably offers is a visceral exploration of sex, hatred, violence, and revenge that is unlike any other film viewers will come across in 2015.